Twitter Search lets us down again

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angry about this RT @jeanlucr: Has Twitter Declared War on Traditional Retweets? than a minute ago via web

I have complained about Twitter’s search system before. I always used to think it was strange that you had to go to a subdomain, just to search anything at all. Eventually they integrated the search engine right onto the home page, so that problem went away. But as we’ve known for a while, it is nearly impossible to find older tweets since Twitter Search only keeps an index of tweets searchable for about two weeks.

Now of course that is probably small potatoes for most: why do you want to be able to search old tweets when Twitter is all about real time information? And now that the Library of Congress is taking over, who cares? These are good questions, and ultimately, the times are few when I truly need to find an old tweet through a search engine. But these things are steeped in principle: I should be able to if wanted. Moreover, there should be a better way to find a month-old tweet (one that I wrote, no less) than paging back through my entire timeline by clicking “more” 40 times.

Today a quirk of Twitter search was exposed that is even stranger. Apparently, Twitter is filtering search results that contain the word “RT.” This cuts down on repetitive results, to be sure, but again, a tailored list of results is not what we should be receiving from searching. Personally I think repetitive RT tweets are 1) easy to ignore and 2) a visual cue for gauging the popularity and, in some ways, the importance of a particular tweet.

I was a bit skeptical of this glitch even happening since it sounds like a bug, but it does indeed occur. Here’s the rub: it only happens when you are logged in. So logged-out or non-users searching the Twitter homepage get full results, as does anyone searching on

It is likely that Twitter is doing this on purpose, and for several reasons.

  1. They want to clean up results for users and see it as a wanted convienience and added value (which it may indeed be for many people).
  2. They want to encourage use of their “Retweet” button are are underhandedly “forcing” users to use it if they want to be included in search results.
  3. Building on the two above, @josiefraser from the Digizen project in the UK, thinks they are doing this to follow up on search deals with Google and Microsoft, to have Twitter’s new and approved Retweets as a way to easily and quantitatively rank tweet relevance.

So anyway, just another thing to be skeptical of when using Twitter for searching. With the addition of “sponsored tweets” and now the elimination of manual RTs, Twitter Search has really hit rock-bottom in terms of transparent and accessible search results. Worse yet, the users who do use the Retweet button do not get credit for having done so. All that appears is a note, saying that a certain tweet has been retweeted by x number of others (see picture above).

Hopefully the serious research archive at the Library of Congress will be useful for some who need a real archive. For the rest of you, hopefully most of you will see this as an improvement, an elimination of noise, and tell me to quit my bellyaching. As for me, well, I’ll just go crawl back under my griping rock and wait until someone finds me an easy way to search old tweets (that doesn’t involve Google or equally unappealing RSS parsing).

Update: The Next Web has weighed in saying, “If I were a betting blogger, I’d place my wager on Twitter addressing the filter as a “coding error” that will soon be “corrected”.” We’ll see.


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